Table of Contents:

Persistence

Starting the collaboration was daunting but exciting, as it presented a real opportunity to get involved on the ground of a fascinating technoscience research project. Continuing the collaborative work, however, required persistence. Figuring out what needs to be done, and how best to do it in such a new environment, with limited models to which to draw on, can be a serious challenge. If the work takes the philosopher out of her comfort zone (and it will)— struggling to develop survey or focus group questions and to understand how to analyze them, trying to understand scientific presentations that are intended for specialists, wondering how to fill out year-end reports filled with categories that seem not to apply to one’s own work, etc.— there are many opportunities to quit and return to her previous, known world. Sometimes the expectations from the site visit teams were daunting (“build an international reputation”) and seemed to require far more than the relatively limited funding and available personpower could afford. In other cases, the site visit team simply did not fully understand what we were trained to do (e.g., one site visitor in the early years demanded to know how soon we would have acceptable trade-off data so as to inform the FDA about parameters for approval!).

We also found ourselves under pressure to write outside grants and put in significant time and effort to develop a supplemental project idea, write the proposal, learn the funding agency’s submission system, develop a reasonable budget, etc., often without much if any support from administrative personnel, and unfortunately sometimes without any payoff at the end. Learning to write, submit, and rewrite grant proposals and develop new collaborative partnerships requires persistence. If all these challenges were to arise in the context of not having the work fully understood by one’s home department (philosophy), the temptation to step back would only increase. Philosophy departments may simply not be prepared to take on the role of administering grants (or have the relevant experience to help secure them), or they may not recognize the ways in which this kind of collaboration can enhance philosophical work, rather than simply providing a sendee to science or engineering. In our case, the UW philosophy department prides itself on engaged philosophy, whether in the realm of philosophy of science or applied ethics, and so was quite supportive of our efforts.

Creativity

Given disciplinary differences in understandings of “research,” we had to get creative about translating our work into the language and structures of science and engineering. For instance, in developing a normative paper a philosophy researcher typically does a literature review, selects relevant pieces to help put together a background setting (making careful choices about what is relevant and what is not, how to narrow the scope of the paper, etc.), builds an argument, identifies and considers likely objections, and develops responses to those objections. To the scientist, the lack of empirical research or identifiable “data” collection suggests that little or no work is required; once the literature review is done, writing the philosophy paper should take very little time. We worried in the early years that our science and engineering colleagues would not understand the kinds of preliminary work we needed to do (understanding the technologies, considering the constraints on technology' development, surveying writings on relevant precedent technologies, etc.) in order to be prepared to start writing normative papers in the area.

Thus, even in a context where scientists recognized the need for input on ethical issues (vs. getting a top-down mandate from a funder or institution), we had to work to show the value of philosophical content, figure out ways to integrate it into the ongoing science and engineering work without sacrificing the rigors of our discipline, and work to make our “products” intelligible in the world of engineered devices and electrodes. This required finding creative way's to meld infrastructure and incentives familiar to science with those conducive to ethics research and philosophical scholarship. So, rather than funding a single full-time RA, equivalent binding was divided among four or five philosophy graduate “fellows” who met weekly' to read and discuss journal articles or works in progress, recognizing that building a community of philosophers would be more valuable than a single RA, given the different needs for developing and completing projects. Another example of this was creative interpretation of grant language that provided funding for “supplies and equipment.” While we did not need to buy' electrodes or lab rats, we did need to pay' for focus group transcription and to study participant incentives or for a part-time RA to do a targeted literature review. Many of these needs were funded as “supplies and equipment.”

 
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